My Defining Pagan Moment

The Patheos Spirituality Channel is running a series on “defining moments, . . . . . moments where we move from our chosen path . . . . it is in those moments that our future is determined and our faith is tested.” I’m not sure that I quite fit into this narrative because my “Defining Pagan Moments” didn’t test my faith, they simply caused it to progress. I’ve mentioned before that I was once the President of my church youth group, and that I grew up a practicing and rather committed Methodist. Unlike a lot of other Pagans I didn’t have a bad experience with Christianity, I simply always found it lacking and incomplete.

There are some really cool “Pagan Conversion” stories out there, and I’m quite jealous of them. I wish that I had been initiated by my grandmother in eighth grade, or perhaps had dated the prettiest girl in high school who was secretly a Witch. Alas, my journey began in libraries and bookstores, and it was several years before I even met another Pagan, let alone did a ritual with or even kissed one.

One of my defining moments, rather embarrassingly, came at a mall in downtown St. Louis Missouri where I stumbled upon a kiosk outside of a New Age store. Possessing a rather serious weakness for books I began scanning the book section, my eyes eventually settling on D.J. Conway’s Celtic Magic. Celtic Magic is a rather horrible book by modern standards. It’s mostly bad history grafted onto an Eclectic Wiccan framework, but I didn’t know this at the time, all I knew was that Led Zeppelin was interested in Celtic Mythology, and this seemed like a good place to start. (In many ways Led Zeppelin was my gateway to Paganism, but that story has been told elsewhere.)

While Conway’s history was lacking, her prose was just fine, and I began to devour her little book upon returning to a friend’s house. I found myself in agreement with nearly every turn of phrase! Oh, and those Celts! What a lovely people full of magick and living side by side with elves! No wonder Stairway to Heaven turned out so great, it was influenced by this! Even as I burned through the pages a sense of dread began rising inside of me, because looming up ahead on page 43 was the chapter Celtic Wicca and the Lady.

The word Wicca scared me, mostly because I sort of knew what it was, and that it worked. I have a very forgiving father who encouraged me to read anything and everything. In elementary and junior high school that usually translated into books about the occult, the unexplained, ghosts, cryptids,* and UFO’s. (Are any of you out there familiar with author Daniel Cohen?) In the seventh grade I picked up a book on Witchcraft by Sybil Leek and read the words “O Triple Goddess” for the first time.

I’m pretty sure that I didn’t read all of Leek’s book that summer, but I do remember casting a spell from the back of it. When it came time to return some library books (Leek’s being one of them) one of them went missing, so I used a spell from Leek’s book to aid in the recovery of a lost object. The spell worked like a charm and I was suitably freaked out by it, but from that moment on I began to associate the terms Witchcraft and Wicca with a Goddess. I remember arguing with a counselor at my church when he said that “Witches worship the devil.” I replied with “no they don’t, they worship some sort of Triple Goddess thing.”

I was scared of what was on page 43 precisely because I knew it was real, and I wasn’t looking for a life changing moment at the time. When I finally got to the chapter on “Celtic Wicca” I found myself agreeing with much of it and feeling as if I’d been let it on a long-forgotten secret. As I settled down to sleep that night images of the Lady ran through my head . . . . it was subtle, but I had been changed just a little bit. I spent the next few days thinking about “The Old Religion” and the worship of the Great Goddess, unsure if the whole thing was just another curiosity or a new path I was meant to walk.

My Grandmother used to lead my brother and I in a prayer before bedtime. By the third grade it was a prayer I had memorized and I recited it every night before I went to sleep. It began with “Lord keep us safe this night,” and I had been reciting it that way for fifteen years or so. After what felt like weeks of wrestling but was probably just sixty hours or so, I added two words to my nighttime prayer. Those two little words, just three syllables would change me forever. After taking a deep breath I said out loud “Lord and Lady keep us safe this night . . .”

Lord and Lady keep us safe this night,
Secure from all our fears.
May angels guard us while we sleep,
till morning light appears.

At that moment, upon reciting those words, I felt a rush of energy enter me like nothing I had ever felt before. By saying Her name out loud, by uttering it in a prayer to Her, She came to me that night. It was like an ancient energy swooped down and cradled me inside of it. I was finally giving voice to Her, and She was acknowledging me as Her own. Now I knew not only that She was real, but that She loved me, and I’ve never looked back.

I’ve of course had other experiences, most notably with Pan, but there are other ones that come to mind as special. My initiation was life-changing, and I’ve participated in a few other rituals which have affected me too, but nothing really compares to that night. That was beginning, and I would have never had those other experiences without that defining moment.

*I’m telling you, Sasquatch is real, the Loch Ness Monster probably not.

How the Claim of Being Old Saved Modern Paganism
Pagan Festivals and the .25%
Endings and Beginnings
Finding the Common Ground at PantheaCon
About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Conway’s book was one of the first Pagan-type books I read, also. It’s so bad, isn’t it?

    • JasonMankey

      The Norse and Celtic books are essentially the same thing, she just changes a few god names here and there. They are horrible books, but I’ll give her credit for not necessarily being a horrible writer.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        I won’t give her credit because it is books like hers (she isn’t the only one, must be said) that spread misinformation at a basic level.

        Something I would love to see is a series of books that cover basic, intermediate and advanced information/instruction on the various Pagan/Heathen paths.

        As an Eclectic Heathen, I can see some issues with doing that, but it’s a good idea.

  • Sunweaver

    I like your story because it reflects so much of how a lot of people come to Pagan religions. My first book was Solitary Wicca by Scott Cunningham, but it was not my **moment.** I wrote a little something for this series that will be up on Monday. Anyway, I like this. I wonder what kinds of moments my kids will have! Fates only know.

  • Christine Kraemer

    Methodism: me too.

  • Marc

    I’d argue that my “path to Paganism” was brought about by individuals in my household that were a study in comparative religion, the forced reading of Bulfinch’s Mythology in elementary school, and the sheer unfortunate result of the death of my Grandmother when I was in 6th grade. Also, the whole “being asked to leave Church because we are poor” thing.

    But I don’t necessarily think it was a single “moment” as I seem to understand it being used. It was a gradual process, with slow fits and starts, dead ends and repeated steps, that took a hiatus from 1999 until 2005, which I have jumped back into with earnest.

  • Greenflame

    That’s a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it!

  • Brandon James

    Amazing story and similar to my own. Very glad to hear it!

  • Celestine Angel

    My first book: The Truth About Witchcraft Today by Scott Cunningham.

  • Nick Rowley

    The BBC Schools Radio Music Time series “An Odd Odyssey, or Missing From Homer”, my father’s books about the near east and an instinctual different reaction to the bits of the bible featuring the Canaanite religion than the rest of the kids in Sunday school when they were read out were probably the foundational elements of my theological outlook. As weird and diverse as that might be. :)